It's About Real AND Virtual Learning (emphasis on AND)

Virtual learning is not going away. It continues to grow in digital leaps. Of course, virtual learning has been around for a lot longer than digital and the Net.

This 2008 video is titled “virtual learning is no replacement for real learning.” It is from the National Institute on Media and Family (which closed in 2009).

Bernard Bull referenced the video in a post that starts by saying that "Real learning is no replacement for virtual learning, not as we begin to consider the affordances of virtual reality." If you watch the video (which uses learning about what an orange is as an example), Bull's comment on the video is: "How many face-to-face classes teach science using pictures from a textbook? Look at some of the best virtual schools. They send out amazing packages of kitchen science projects. It is a myth that brick and mortar school is full of real world activities. That isn't reality in most classes. It is also a myth that virtual learning is 100% screen. Virtual schooling can be packed with real world activities that are far away from the computer screen.?"

Good learning experiences use both real and virtual learning. I recently made a repair to our clothes dryer by first watching a video on YouTube showing someone doing it. If I had only watched the video and never actually done the repair itself, I doubt that I could explain what I had learned very well to another person who needed the knowledge. But I could never have done the repair without that video. A "real teacher" helping me do the repair in-person would have been great and probably even better as I could have asked questions along the way and have been corrected if I erred. But that experience just wasn't available to me. We have done that as teachers and learners for a long time. Virtual experiences have always allowed us to travel back in time and experience distant places. The opportunity to use greatly enhanced digital learning experiences makes the combination of that with "real" learning much more powerful.


Zoom Into Deep Learning Technology

Facebook moves towards being more than just your social graph center, Pinterest wants to be more than a image social-sharing site. More Google than Facebook, even though Facebook seems to want to be Google sometimes.

Pinterest has more than 100 million users and was the early leader in having people share images and tag and categorize them for others to find.

But what if you see something you're interested in on Pinterest, but you don’t know how to find it in real life, or you don't even what that item is called. Examples that Pinterest gives on their blog are that "perfect lamp hiding in a Pin of someone’s living room, or maybe a random street style shot with the exact shoes you’re looking for."

Unlike Facebook's similar technology, Pinterest is not looking to recognize people/faces. This is all about things.

If you see something in a Pin that you want to learn more about, you tap the search tool in the corner, select the part you’re interested in and it will go to other Pins just like it.

The obvious monetizing aspect to this is to allow you to zoom in on that lamp, find out its name and where you can buy it. 

Pinterest's fledgling visual search engine (it calls it “a discovery engine”) pushes us further towards the our visual interactions with devices and perhaps with the world. 

I do like that Michael Lopp, Pinterest’s head of engineering, has said that “This is building serendipity,” 

For the near future, I would expect this new feature to help Pinterest sell advertising via the 50 billion images/pins on the site. They have only indexed about a billion of those images so far. 

But what else might this technology be used for? Does it have educational applications?

Brain Scans and Lesson Plans

brainBridging neuroscience and educational practice - brain scans and lesson plans - probably sounds like a good idea and a frightening one. I saw that Pearson asks two experts (one from higher education and one from K12) to apply principles from learning science to classroom practice. This is part one of a series of eight questions.

One question they asked was what was a surprising aspect of learning research.  Michael Britt said that he was surprised that "being curious is actually kind of a negative state. We seek to relieve ourselves of it by finding out the answer to the unresolved issue we’re concerned about. Not only that, but as we involve ourselves in finding the answer to what initially made us curious, we are also in a state that makes more open than usual to learning about other things–even if they’re aren’t very closely related to the original topic."

The neuroscience says that when our minds are in a “curious state” there is more activity in the hippocampus–an area of the brain involved in memory and regions of the brain that produce dopamine–the neurotransmitter involved in feelings of reward–is also released when curiosity is aroused and a resolution to the problem is found."

How do you use that in our lesson plans? One thing we could do is present learning objectives as questions rather than statements. Would headlights work at light speed? What if the earth stopped spinning? What if the sun disappeared? Encourage curiosity.

But Liane Wardlow would not like my title here. In a pst she responded to, she sees limits to the direct application of the science to the classroom. Brain scans cannot give rise directly to lesson plans, but she also sees the possibilities of expanding our knowledge about learning and translating that knowledge into practical methods for increasing learning in the classroom as still being enormous.

As is so often the case with research and data, it is the application of it that matters. We find that students who are good at complex math calculations show more activity in a certain part of the brain. Now what? Determining causality is a more difficult matter.

Kindergarten Engineers

microfilm plane

I was thinking about my earlier post about "learning engineers" after I came across a video storybook on called "David and Kayleen Design a Glider." Actually, the first thing I thought of was really the hundreds of balsa wood and paper gliders I had made as a kid.  From those pre-cut balsa wood airplanes that all my friends bought, built and broke, to the ones I ended up building from scratch using balsa, paper and scraps, I learned the basics of aerodynamics.

Eventually, through a middle school club, I learned to make beautiful rainbow-winged microfilm planes (like the one at top) with rubber band motors that could fly for several minutes in a gymnasium or the several airplane hangars our club visited. It was pretty nerdy at the time and I loved it.

Years later, as a middle school teacher, I had a devoted little club of kids building planes from paper that were part engineering and part origami.

Building these airplanes is a way to learn about aerospace engineering, but it was also a way to learn how to follow instructions, about precision and about learning from the mistakes you and your fellow engineers made.

That video storybook page says that it is a way for children to learn about "the design and structure of airplanes and gliders, and are encouraged to understand the innovation process."glider

I did some digging online about the lesson and the "hoop gliders" they were building. I know that design from a book I had when I was doing that club that contained plans for folding prize-winning paper airplane designs. The hoop glider doesn't look at all like what most people would envision as a glider - which makes it a good choice of a design to use to get kids thinking about why planes fly.

One of the things I found online was written by Tom Jenkins [@tomjenkinsstem], a middle school science and STEM teacher in Ohio. He wrote Kindergarteners Are Born Engineers about a lesson he did using the video and hoop gliders with a kindergarten class.

hoop gliderHe started them talking abou how planes fly, and asking what engineers do and, as you might expect with kids that age, the discussion went in many places. I totally get that part of it involved Thomas the Tank Engine, as many kids think of a railroad engineer first. Eventually one student says that engineers "build things” and that gets him into his true mission.

They select materials and then test and measure the flights of  the gliders of their own creation. One student suggests using aluminum foil for the hoops because it is lighter, and another suggests instead strips of manila folder “because it’s less floppy.”

Sounds like a fun and good lesson. But what is most interesting to me about the lesson is what Jenkins fears and discovers.

He was afraid that the class of little ones would test the gliders, see many of them "fail" and then end up crying. He has seen that happen with older middle-schoolers.

As expected, most of the planes crashed quickly. But "not one student cried or was disheartened at all. In fact, they all ran back to their workstations and started discussing a new plan. They had failed and that was okay. They had learned a lesson and were going to continue to improve their designs until they were successful."

That is huge.

PogoAnd then Jenkins realized that the problem is himself - or as Pogo said it years ago, "We have met the enemy and he is us."

Jenkins: "These kindergärtners get it. They understand that learning is a collaborative process. Oftentimes you have to discuss the problem in order to find the best solution. Failure is also an option, and as long as you learn from your mistakes, it can be a positive experience. They had lived the engineering design process their entire lives."

He concludes that although he usually spends the first few weeks of a school year the engineering design process (and in his situation, to older kids), they already knew it and he was probably breaking them.

Kids entering school may be more likely to not fear collaboration, experimentation, guessing at a solution and even failing than the older ones who have been "taught" by assignments, correct answrs and grade to be more hesitant.

Failure is still often discouraged as a learning experience - intentionally or not - rather than seeing the gift of failure as a learning tool. We need to remember that children have "an innate ability to learn through the iterative process" and are closer to being engineers and scientists than we give them credit. Not only STEM but STEAM (with that important art and creativity segment) and DIY and maker brought into the K-16 classroom is powerful.

Pogo Earth Day 1971 poster, licensed under Fair Use via Wikipedia